Leon Kossoff was born in London and has lived there all his life, growing up in Islington, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney, and devoting his career to painting the city he knows so well. Building sites, railway lines, underground stations, Churches and swimming pools feature amongst his densely painted depictions of the city of London, as well as intimate portraits of his immediate family and friends. While attending Hackney Downs (Grocers) School in 1939, Kossoff was evacuated to King’s Lynn, Norfolk for three years, during which time his interest in art was encouraged. Back in London, Kossoff went to life class at Toynbee Hall, Commercial Street in 1943 before attending commercial art classes at St Martin’s School of Art. The artist’s studies were interrupted by Military Service with the Royal Fusiliers in 1945. Attached to the 2nd Battalion Jewish Brigade, he served in Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
Kossoff returned to London again in 1948 and the following year enrolled on a fine art course at St Martins, where he met and befriended Frank Auerbach who encouraged him to attend David Bomberg’s evening classes at Borough Polytechnic from 1950-2. During the 1950s, Kossoff frequently travelled to Auerbach’s studio and the artists would model for each other. He went on to study at the Royal College of Art, London from 1953-56. In 1953 Kossoff left his Mornington Crescent studio for Bethnal Green Road and married Rosalind (often referred to as Peggy in his paintings). Two years later their son David was born. Helen Lessore invited the artist to exhibit at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956, where he held his first one-man show the following year and continued to exhibit until it closed in 1965. Kossoff taught during the 1960s at the Regent Street Polytechnic, Chelsea School of Art and St Martin’s School of Art, London.
In 1976 Kossoff’s work featured in the seminal exhibition, The Human Clay, organised by R.B. Kitaj with the Arts Council of Great Britain in which he defined a School of London that included Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Kitaj and Kossoff. Kossoff was chosen as part of a group exhibition to represent British art at the Venice Biennale in 1995.
In 1966 Kossoff moved his studio to Willesden Green, where it remains. He continues to live and work in London.
The work of Leon Kossoff is represented in the following UK public collections: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; National Museum Wales, Cardiff; National Portrait Gallery, London; Tate, London; Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre; British Council Collection; Government Art Collection; Royal College of Art, London; Birmingham Museums Trust; Leeds Art Gallery; Rugby Art Gallery and Museum; New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester Arts and Museums Service; Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull; Swindon Art Gallery; University of Reading Art Collection; Alfred East Art Gallery, Kettering.